In my previous entry I discussed how we can find Jesus in our suffering and how He is with the sufferer. He is in the very midst of their pain and anguish. Isn’t that what a lover does? A lover wants to be with their beloved wherever they may be, even if it is in the mud or out in freezing cold fighting to live. A lover wants to be with their beloved even in the midst of their trials. That is what St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote on love:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love…5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own…6does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
So if God is love then these things that Paul mentions about love are really definitions of who God is and consequently examples of His interactions with His beloved. But today’s blog is not about how God is with His beloved in the midst of suffering but about finding hope in suffering, so where to begin? Well let’s begin where we left off with our last blog, with C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is in the place of pain that God is shouting to us that something is wrong. Something is incredibly wrong with the world and the way things are happening that needs a drastic change. For example you don’t have to tell the child with a stomach ache that something is wrong, they already know. They know that something is wrong and that their sickness is probably not going away until they run to mommy. Now can mommy make the sickness go away? No, but she can diagnose it and find out that the child stayed up each candy to all hours of the night and now they are sick.
Now just as the child knew that they are sick when we experience suffering the pain we are experiencing is telling us that something is wrong, and just like the child we can respond in one of two ways hide in our pain and try to numb it and ignore it or we can tell mommy, or in our case God. Our suffering is as Lewis put it God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is God’s way to tell us that the pain the woman feels each night as her husband beats her is not right. The pain people experience in life is His indicator to us that something is wrong, thus meaning if God is God then that means He has a better plan. What is this better plan? Well in a single word it is resurrection.
Resurrection or rather rebirth is ultimately a new beginning. It is the end of the old and the beginning of the new. It is the beginning of a new chapter, a fresh start for humanity and yet still so much more. It is the end of suffering and triumph over all of humanity’s enemies. It is the end of sorrow and beginning of unending joy and peace, and it is this reality of the Christian Hope that is the conclusion of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, so let us dig deeper.
So where did this rebirth begin? Where will this end or rather when will it culminate? Well it began two thousand years ago when Christ conquered death and became the first fruits of new life. Christ the first fruits having thrown down the principality of death becoming the first born of the dead, the first to enter into the new birth has paved the way for humanity to follow; however, the story does not end there. But what does that entail? Is it merely a spiritual new life or is it physical as well? Is this “new life” better than the original? Well let’s begin with the spiritual side.
New Birth: Spirit
At the point of spiritual new birth, that which comes through salvation, the spirit begins the sanctification process that ultimately is the freeing from the internal bondage. What does that look like? At the point of salvation man’s spirit begins to change through the leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit who now lives within to guide in the paths of righteousness. On top of this the Spirit begins to bring freedom to our spirits from the bondage and sufferings that have befallen us for so long because of sin. So what does this mean in less spiritual jargon? Well as the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify us in righteousness we begin to stop saying yes to sin; which in the Christian mindset is the root of suffering. At the point of salvation the sinner is now both freed from the bondage of sin and becoming free as well. As we sin less we are ultimately creating less suffering for us and for others, though this does not mean the Christian is now free from suffering, but quite the contrary as the Christian is ultimately now creating less suffering.
Along with the decreasing of desire for sin in the sinner’s new birth into Christianity, the new Christian begins to walk the path of freedom from those things that had so long entangled them during their estrangement from God. These things being and not limited to: addictions to drugs, smoking, alcohol, sexual immorality, freedom from self hatred, narcissism, ect. However contrary to the more Post-Modern American Evangelical mindset it is not some instantaneous change from a sinner to a great holy Christian, nor is it some state of immediate freedom from ones struggles. Though some may experience some supernatural freedom from past struggles or massive leap in the sanctification process it is still a process that will continue throughout the entirety of ones life.
Now the last aspect to the new birth of the spirit is the end of alienation. No longer does the sinner remain alienated from God, but through salvation and the new birth of the spirit the Christian can now enter into blessed fellowship with God through the indwelling Spirit.
Though there are more aspects to the spirit’s new birth these are three of the main ones, though one might argue for eternal life the Bible makes it clear that even the unrepentant will have eternal life but they will be living it out in the lake of fire. At the point of death of the body or of the resurrection of the dead then our spirits will be transformed into Christ’s likeness both in the body and in the spirit.
New Birth: Body
The new birth of the body is just as glorious as the spirits, though for many it is simply the end of death but it is so much more than that, so let’s delve deeper. Unlike the new birth of the spirit the body’s new birth does not begin at salvation but at the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.
So let us begin with the obvious death is no more, no longer will man be able to die. No longer will man be able to suffer pain, sickness or any infirmity. This invulnerability to death and suffering is for those who are in Christ alone; as for those outside of Christ they will receive some form of an eternal body, but unlike those in Christ theirs can and will experience suffering.
There is much that shrouds the capabilities of the resurrected body but what we can safely assume is that whatever Jesus did with His and even what Adam and Even could do pre-fall we can do. That means when we work, yes we will still work, we won’t sweat. Work won’t be hard unlike it is now. Our minds quite possibly could be enhanced to where we are able to tap into 100% of our brains instead of only part. This idea can be seen in Adam’s ability to name every animal and manage the garden. We won’t experience shame or even self hatred concerning our bodies; this does tie in with the new birth of our spirits. Just as Jesus ate, we will eat. Unlike the Greek Gnostic mindset that says the body, work and all of physical reality is bad, the Biblical mindset says that the physical reality is Holy which is why we get a New Body.
For many they tend to liken the abilities of the resurrected body to that of modern day superheroes and though they may appear similar they are still completely different. Now concerning walking through walls, though it is possible scripture does not support this idea. Jesus never walked through walls, but rather it says “Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst.”John 20:26. So how did He get in there? Well it was most likely more like He was translated just like Philip in Acts 8:39. Jesus on another occasion is translated from one place to another on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31. Lastly how else could He see 500 people in 40 days, unless He could translate? Finally can the resurrected body fly? Though Jesus does ascend to heaven and is supposed to come riding on the clouds, that does not completely constitute flight. It merely shows that God was and will be demonstrating is superiority over the world. Does that mean we won’t fly no? No, it simply means we cannot assume anything other than it will be both glorious and perfect.
So in summary, what will the new birth of the body look like? Perfect.
Presently we live in a fallen world where chaos, anger, death and corruption run rampant, but the New Earth will be completely the opposite. Just like the resurrected body the New Earth will in many ways return to the way things once were. Well what does that look like? Well there is peace; humanity lived in perfect harmony with all of creation. The soil was soft and not hard, the animals were not trying to kill them and there were no destructive storms in the land. Yes even the weather itself was in perfect harmony with the rest of creation. So if that was what creation looked like on the earth pre-fall we can only assume it will be at the least be the same if not better, which it will be.
Since the fall creation has groaned; for ever since humanity was thrust into exile from paradise they have waited, longing for alienation to end. Ever since the resurrection humanity has been freed from their estrangement from God and a New Exodus has begun, one that will culminate with all of creation finally reunited with God. For when Christ returns He will put to right all the wrongs as humanity’s exile comes to an end and the Father walks among His creation once more.
So what does the Bible say about the earth or rather New Earth as it says in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21? Well first there is a King named Jesus, but that goes without saying if you have ever read the scriptures, but for the sake of the one who has not read much I divulge more. In Psalm 89:3-4 David recalls the covenant that the Lord gave to him: “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.” So from the covenant the Lord has established the throne of David forever, thus if Jesus is the promised seed then there must be a throne. This is not some celestial, ethereal throne floating off in the cosmos but one on the earth. It is tangible.
However more than a King, there is also a Kingdom for a king is not a king without a kingdom; it is as simple as that. So what is this Kingdom? In a word it is perfect. So what is a Perfect Kingdom? For starters there is only peace. No longer will fear, anxiety and depression fill the streets. No longer will violence rage from nation to nation, for peace will overflow from the throne to the ends of the earth. This is what it means for Isaiah when he said: 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7 In short there will be peace all over the earth and it is will never end for there is not end to the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Now does that mean that because there is no end to the increase of His Kingdom that we will take over the stars, planets and galaxies? It is unlikely that we will expand the Kingdom to the galaxies as the language is focusing on the fact that no other government could stop Christ’s Kingdom. To add on to this thought on the Kingdom there will no longer be wickedness or injustice for the One who sits upon the throne will uphold the perpetual peace through righteousness and justice for it is these two realities that are to be found as the foundation of His throne. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalm 89:14 No longer will there be an unjust or wicked king, no longer a flawed righteous king but a Perfect King who will always uphold righteousness and justice all throughout the Kingdom. Thus the poor will be fed, the homeless will be given a home, the orphan and widow a family, the leaders will no longer take bribes or be corrupt. Every sphere of society will be upheld by righteousness and justice. No longer will teachers pick their favorites and ignore the ones who are hard to educate. For when the Prince of Peace sits upon the throne the perfection of all things will go forth as justice and righteousness upholds all things.
Well if there is a Perfect King and Kingdom what about the rest of creation? Well for starters it is new or rather perfect. Contrary to popular belief in much of the church we will not be living in heaven on clouds as fat little cherub babies after this life, nor will we dwell before the Lord worshiping in heaven for all eternity. To go along with these false suggestions of the afterlife the current earth will not be completely destroyed, thrown away and thus replaced but it will be restored to perfection. Why? Well why not? Why would God who has done so much to save all of creation when it is all said and done just abandon His creation? What’s more what about the apocalyptic scriptures that don’t reference people but the land? So let’s look to see what Isaiah has to say concerning the earth: Isaiah 35:7 “The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water.” Isaiah 44:3 “I will pour out water on the thirsty land…” Isaiah 62:4 “…your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married.” God clearly has a heart for the earth as it is His desire to not only to revive that which has become barren and dead but He also desires to marry the earth. Even if you want to spiritualize the reviving of the earth as a spiritual revival then why would God say He will marry or rather become one with the earth? Why would He give the Israelites in Deuteronomy laws concerning the treatment and mistreatment of the land if He did not have both a heart and destiny for the Earth itself? So what is the earth’s destiny? Perfection.
To even go one step deeper there will be peace on the earth even among nonhuman creation. Once again let us peer into the eyes of Isaiah: “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6 Finally humanity will not live in fear of creation as there is peace among all creation. To quote Woody Allen “The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
How does the earth become perfect or new? Well it starts back with the King. When the King comes He will establish peace, righteousness and justice in the earth that will ultimately transform all creation. At the very end of His thousand year reign, He will have thrown down Death, Hades and the accuser of the brethren Lucifer. No longer will death take place in the earth, no longer will injustice continue and no longer will the oppression continue. In Zechariah chapter 14, Zechariah prophesies that the Lord will be king over all the earth and even goes on to talk about the rain and the cattle as if these two things are still needed, thus food and the harvest will continue. But if these things be true and if even the people of the earth are beating their swords into plowshares in order to farm then there must be a destiny for the earth. So what is the fire that will consume the earth? Well if you have ever read the Psalms or the Prophets then you will have noticed that on many different occasions the writers use the word fire as a means not for destruction but for purification. So if this be true then surely when the Bible says fire will consume the earth, then perhaps this is what it means. The fire of God will purify the earth unto perfection transforming it into a new look or rather a new earth. As N.T. Wright so eloquently once said “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.”
God All in All
So with a view of our hope being found in New Spirit, New Body and New Earth there is one last wondrous reality to consider; God will finally be all in all. Paul in his typical emblematic fashion paints the picture of the culmination of all things into perfection with this one small phrase: God will be all in all. O’ the bliss God and humanity will finally be one; the creator and His creation finally dwelling together in perfect unison. No longer will heaven be God’s realm and earth creation’s, but God and creation both humanity and nature will all be one. God will be glorified in complete perfection through all created order, and it is this reality of the Christian Hope that is the conclusion of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
20But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Jesus is not just some philanthropist seeking to bail humanity out of their suffering but He is a lover seeking to draw near to His beloved in their suffering. These words ring throughout the depths of my soul; God desires to be with us in our pain and brokenness.
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion this is such a powerful statement Aslan tells Jill in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia: ‘the Silver Chair’” In the midst of our own brokenness we are blinded to our own need, though we may be aware to a degree of our need we truly have no clue just how broken we are. Just as the man blinded by complete darkness cannot see the dirt and filth that covers, we cannot see just how dirty we are. It is this reason why in John 1:5, 9 it says “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…9There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” As the world lay in deep darkness unaware of its need suddenly a great light pierced through the veil to enlighten the souls of man.
God looking upon humanity’s inability to draw near to Him out of their own blindness took it upon Himself to solve the problem of alienation between God and man Himself. The answer was Jesus, the very Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; God in flesh. The One who spent eternity past arrayed in light took off His garbs of glory and took on the garments of dust. The one who knew equality with God laid it all aside to draw near to the broken, consequently now knowing equality with broken humanity. Until we understand the depths of what He gave up for us, we will never truly know the greatness of His love towards us, but this will be touched upon in a future blog. As stated prior, if you are a lover then you want to be with your beloved in all things, even in their pain. This is what it means to be a lover, to be with them in the rejoicing and in the weeping.
So God looking down upon us in our anguish took it upon Himself be with us. Like Aslan calling to Jill before she even knew there was an Aslan, Jesus was coming to us before we ever knew there was a Jesus. The lover was coming to His beloved before she ever knew they were ever loved.
Christ Suffers With Us
Let us begin with the most iconic moment where Jesus suffers with humanity. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.7Then after this He *said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’” John 11:5-7 The Bible tells us that Jesus had love and affection for His friend Lazarus; thus, hearing that His friend is sick decides to stay two more days and then go see His friend. Having kept a low profile with the Jewish religious leaders seeking to kill Him, takes two more days and then comes out of hiding to go see His friend whom He knows is now dead. Does Jesus know that Lazarus is going to die prior to the time He leaves? Who knows but what we do know is that He decides to wait in order to bring glory to the Godhead.
As Jesus shows up on the scene Martha comes running up to Him to say in summary “If you were here my brother would still be alive, but I trust that You could do something” in which Jesus responds “You have no clue what I am up to but I do love you which is why I am here.” Martha leaves and sends Mary to Jesus. As Mary comes running up to Jesus she falls at His feet in tears saying in summary “I know You could have done something if You had simply been here.” Jesus looking at His friend weeping at His feet and those that came with her weeping was both deeply moved and troubled. Why troubled? Well we will save that for another time. What we do know is that Jesus experiences sorrow and begins to weep within; this is what it means in the Greek by wept. It is not a loud sobbing but rather a silent weeping that is primarily an experience of internal sorrow. So Jesus in other words is not performing some outward weeping like the professional mourners who accompanied Mary, but as one whose heart was broken in deep pain. As a side note at the time there were those who people would hire to come and mourn at a funeral, these being called mourners. This is why the silent and more internal weeping that Jesus experienced was a true experience of sorrow, thus in the moment Jesus is entering Mary’s own suffering as well as Lazarus’ suffering.
Turning to the John 8 we read the story of the woman caught in adultery being brought before Jesus for judgment. As all gathered to mock and condemn her as she wallowed in her shame before all to see; Christ knelt down beside her. As the upper echelon of religious elite sought to condemn her to death after she had experienced the fullness of shame possible, Christ did the unthinkable. The Great Rabbi adorned in fine garments got on his knees and played in the dirt. Though many have speculated what He was drawing whether He was writing their own sins or just doodling either way, whatever it was all their attention left the woman and moved to Christ. The religious elite no long looking and mocking the woman now with turned gazes stood bewildered at this Great Rabbi as His next words would leave them reeling to the point they would leave; yet, it was His drawing that moved her shame unto Him as the laughed at the “Great Rabbi” becoming the “Crazy Rabbi”.
Christ Enters into Suffering: Part I
Jesus seeing that humanity was lost and broken and completely alienated from God became a man, lived thirty-three years and suffered death. However, though the cross was a painful experience it was His being cut off or separated from the Father that was the true pain. Jesus’ alienation from the Father began in Gethsemane and continued to build until it climaxed into total abandonment at the cross.
As Jesus entered into the Garden “He *took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34And He *said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ 35And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by.” Mark 14:33-35 For as the hour approached for Jesus to head to the cross His soul was already deeply pained to the point of death, so much that He couldn’t bare for eight of his disciples to even see Him in His sorrowful state of weakness. Jesus though not wavering in His identity or in any way committing a sin was now facing His greatest temptation and greatest fear; fear of being separated from His Father, separation from an eternal relationship.
His heart rent with deep agony fell to the ground and began to groan in intercession. For it was that Jesus is now being tempted in a way that He never truly experience, that was far greater than what He had ever experienced, even in the wilderness. Jesus is in such agony and pain as to what is to come that He is yelling, groaning and even sweating drops of blood. Why, because He is afraid. Sure He is about to experience the greatest beating and one of the most painful deaths imaginable that is not simply enough to cause Him to enter into this state. Many men have gone to the cross and died that were of less character than He and never once suffered the agony we see Jesus entering into. So what is He afraid of? Well for one reason though not nearly as dramatic as the primary but big enough is the fact of betrayal. Jesus after many hours of pursuing His best friend Judas’ heart at the last supper, in hopes to save him, knows that he is coming to betray him, which will ultimately lead to his own damnation. (For more on this see Love’s Final Attempts) This is more than enough to break Jesus’ heart but still not enough to the point of His agony in Gethsemane even when paired to the sufferings on the cross.
Jesus in His agony yelled in deep sorrowful groaning “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36 Jesus is ultimately saying “Dad! I do not want to do this!!! Is there any other way? You are the most powerful and wisest person I know, PLEASE!!!! Have You found a new way? But if this is it…I will do it.” These prayers in the garden were not pretty eloquent prayers but groans of a man in complete terror, because of what is to come. Jesus is about to experience the wrath of God, Satan and Man that will ultimately lead to him being separated from God and Man.
Satan Wrath: This can be summed up in two ways. Satan is doing everything to keep Him from going to the cross, but also wants Him dead. Though the Bible does not openly acknowledge this, we can be sure that Satan is tempting Jesus in the Garden and all the way to the point off death to not go through with the cross. “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” Luke 4:13 With Jesus undergoing His greatest fear we can be safe to say there was no greater fear to tempt Him. Along with this when Jesus says to Peter to “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38 He was not simply telling them for themselves alone but also for Himself. His Spirit was in Full Obedience to the will of His Father, but His flesh was terrified and thus tempted. With this in mind the other aspect of Satan’s wrath is in the fact that he hates God so much that he wants to see Him suffer to the point of death. So both sides are crashing upon Christ’s frame. However the next two are even harder on Him.
Humanity’s Wrath: The ones Jesus loves and came to save are now betraying Him, mocking Him, beating Him, rejecting Him and are soon going to kill him.
God Wrath Fall Upon Him: As the sin of humanity descends upon Jesus His Father would release the full judgment upon His Son that would cancel the judgment destined for humanity, thus also leading the Father turning His back on the son and cutting off from fellowship with Him; this leaving the Son completely abandoned and ultimately an orphan. This being the greatest suffering He will ever experience, the suffering of abandonment from the One Who loved Him for eternity past.
The writer of Hebrews states that because of Jesus’ piety the Father heard His cries and does respond in two ways the first being He sends angels to strengthen His Son in the Garden and the ultimate is that He truly did save Him from death, but not the way Jesus had hoped. The Father saved Him by death through the resurrection. But in between the two the Father does not say or do anything. Why do I say this? Well for one Jesus is praying three times in the Garden and the Father does not answer but only by sending angels, thus showing the estrangement from each other has begun. The ultimately display is when Jesus for the first time ever address God not as Father but as God when He cries out “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” Jesus no longer using the familial address of Father but is now taking on the cries of an orphaned heart saying ultimately “God where are You? Why have you have abandoned me and casted me out into darkness and silence?” Yet in His time of pain and abandonment He never gave up.
In His abandonment Jesus becomes cut off from an eternal relationship from His own Father; thus, bringing alienation to fullness. The Son becoming cut off went from an eternal relationship of always experiencing and feeling His Father’s love to being alienated and separated. It is for this reason why He was sweating blood in Gethsemane, because He knows what is to come and is terrified and does not want this. Thus Jesus experienced loneliness and can actually say “I know how the widow feels when they are lonely.” Think of you marrying the love of your life at 18 years old and you remain in married bliss for the next seventy years and now at 88 years old your spouse tragically leaves you because they no longer love you. Think of how traumatizing and painful that would be, then times that by ten billion and you still cannot touch the depths of the pain of the Father’s abandonment of the Son. This sorrow was experienced equally on both sides in different ways, but that is a point for a different time. It is this sorrow of abandonment and separation from His Father that stands alone and equal to all the suffering humanity has ever experienced combined.
Christ Enters Into Suffering: Part II
As the story of the Gospels go on, Jesus is betrayed by His best friend whose breast He once leaned upon in fellowship just a few hours earlier. (For more on this see Love’s Final Attempts) Jesus even at the last supper expressed the pain of what Judas’ betrayal through one of David’s Psalms as one of the greatest pains a person can experience. Side note the Gospels recognize Judas as a thief and Jesus was aware, thus Jesus suffered being robbed on multiple occasions even by His close friend. However; not only does Judas betray Him, but all of His friends abandon Him, Peter denies Him three times and Judas kills himself. This is alone is enough to break the strongest of hearts, yet Christ endures. While Christ is on trial He is beaten, mocked and spit upon constantly that leads to His crucifixion. The ones He loves and came to save would soon send Him to the cross to hang naked humiliation for all to see and mock. The betrayal of His own people was such a huge pain of suffering that one cannot fully grasp without a deeper understanding of His relationship with them throughout the Old Testament.
As already stated but while hanging on the cross Christ would soon experience the greatest suffering ever in all of history, the suffering of His abandonment from the Father. Yet even in the face of His abandonment Christ pressed on to endure one final suffering; He died. Jesus Himself declared about His own life in John 10:18 that “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” In other words if Jesus had never willingly went to the cross, because He makes it clear to Pilate that He could have delivered Himself if He had wished, but if He did not willingly die He would never die. Jesus could not die unless He allowed. But He is a man right? Yes, but even in His humanity because He had never sinned He was not subject to the curse of death. This meaning Jesus would still be alive preaching and doing miracles today if He had never died. Even more because He had never died, Jesus could not get sick, or grow to be an “old man” full of wrinkles, lose His eyesight, go bald or even go grey as all of those are consequences of sin. If you were to have never sinned, then you would not be bound by death and decay and all that accompanies, thus all the more important for Jesus to willingly lay down His life. With this in perspective Jesus suffering of death is far greater than even the average.
Jesus with the Present Day Sufferer
When finding Christ with the present day sufferer few have said it better and clearer than C.S. Lewis in “The Horse and His Boy”
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and -”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to the shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
So where was Jesus? Where was God in the Holocaust? Where was He when the child was being abused? Where was God during injustice? Where was He as present day humanity suffers?
Well He was with the prisoner in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. God was with the slaves being lynched during slavery. He was on His knees with the woman caught in adultery. He was with Mary and Martha in her sorrow at Lazarus’ grave. He was hanging on a cross with both thieves on Calvary. He was with the child hiding in their closet from their abusive father. He was weeping with the child whose parent(s) tragically died. He was with the single mother struggling to take care of her children. He was with young man filled with shame cause he was bound in sexual immorality. He was with the man who just couldn’t seem to get it right. He was with the one who could see everyone around them prospering with relative ease and they fought to keep going. He was with the one stuck in addiction. He was with the one who felt worthless. He was never distant and never will be distant from the sufferer but will always be right there with them.
In summary I will leave you with C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
After listening to Dr. Peter Kreeft’s lecture on Suffering I decided to write my own blog on the issue of suffering having had this on my mind for a while as well as having been inspired from his brilliant lecture. So let us begin.
Throughout the ages humanity has perpetually known a state of suffering that leaves the constant question “Why?” and “Where is God?” To find the answer to “Where is God in suffering?” first we must ask the questions: “What is suffering?” and “Why do we suffer?” before we can answer the question “Where is God?” So let’s use logic and start off with the first question.
What is suffering? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines suffering as: The state where one must endure death, pain, or distress. It is the state in which one must sustain loss or damage or be subject to disability or handicap.
Aristotle wrote that “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.” He went on to establish what is known as the “Four Causes” which are four possible answers to the question “Why?” something happens. These four causes are: Formal, Material, Efficient and Final.
- Formal: What is it? Define it. What’s its form, nature species?
- Material: What is it made of? What is the content?
- Efficient: Where did it come from? Who made it?
- Final: What is it for? What is its purpose?
With the issue of suffering thanks to Merriam-Webster we have already given a broad definition to the form of suffering, but for the sake of an example we will use the suffering of physical abuse. The first two questions are easy to answer. What is the Formal Cause of our chosen suffering? It is physical abuse. What is the Material Cause? It is a father beating is son. What is the Efficient Cause? This could be from drinking/drugs, depression, mental illness, anger or any other place of brokenness that can be found in the father that would cause him to lash out. Last but not least the hardest question: What is the Final Cause to the suffering of physical abuse? This last one is the hardest.
In our search for understanding we will look at some Philosophers who sought to make sense to suffering. The first is Buddha who once said “To live is to suffer” in which Nietzsche added “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” Yet it was Viktor E. Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” Frankl adds on to Buddha and Nietzsche “If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes.” So with that in mind, what is the meaning to life? Jesus laid this out for us in the Gospels when asked what the greatest commandment is. It is Love. It is to be loved by God, to love Him in return and consequently love yourself and then others. So if there is meaning to life (i.e. Love) what is the meaning of a child’s suffering physical abuse from his father? For if life has meaning then suffering must logically have some meaning or purpose to it.
Was there even a meaning for Jesus in what He suffered? Yes! A constant theme in the Psalms and the Proverbs is that God exalts the lowly and in Philippians 2 Paul states that in Christ’s lowliness displayed in His incarnation, suffering and death He was exalted. The in Revelation 5 we see glimpse of what He gets in His exaltation. So in that there was some meaning to Christ’s life on the earth it was simply a reward. In Isaiah 53 it states that there will be a reward to be given to the “Suffering Servant” which that being in part the offering of the nations as seen in Psalms 2. So Jesus in His life and suffering has meaning. It is glory, honor, riches, a kingdom, a bride and so much more. But the question still stands “What is our meaning to suffering?”
Buddha who founded his religion/philosophy on four noble truths the first of which says “To live is to suffer” from the suffering of birth to death and all of that lies within. Though there is some truth to this, Buddha based his whole religion on escaping suffering. Jesus on the other hand came and contrary to Buddha came to lead humanity not out of suffering but to lead us into suffering, for Him sin was the key issue to all suffering. This we know as Christians is the ultimate Efficient Cause to suffering. So if for the Christian all suffering came from the root of our sin what is the purpose?
In Hebrew 5 it says that Jesus had to learn obedience through His suffering. Along with that the Greek Poet Aeschylus said “Wisdom comes alone though suffering.” So is the purpose of suffering to gain wisdom or obedience? Paul states in Romans 8:28 “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” So though that doesn’t answer the question entirely it does mean God can create a meaning for it, the meaning being good. In the case of the abused child the good can be they grow up to poor into those that come from broke homes. Which is simply Nietzsche Frankl’s point; the child survived the abuse grew up and found meaning in it by using their understanding of the issue to help others. But is there more purpose to it?
If God brings good out of suffering, then is their more? For the woman caught in adultery in John 8 it was Jesus. In her suffering she found God. For David in the midst of his suffering we see in the Psalms it was an opportunity for him to cry out to God. So in the midst of our suffering we can find some meaning in that it is an opportunity to encounter God. For the abused child it is an opportunity to cry out to God, though that does not mean the suffering will stop, for as we know as Christians that suffering will never end until sin is gone. For sin is the Efficient Cause.
As Dr. Peter Kreeeft says “However these Four Causes are not meant to be a solution to the problem of suffering but to hone in on its centrality. There are two parts to the problem of suffering: Practical and Theoretical.” The practical being simply what do we do with it?
The theoretical which is the logic of it, why must we suffer? Through a secular lens we can try and keep growing in society and in our understanding and eventually we will evolve into a more enlightened being that has become above suffering and injustice. But to quote Sigmund Freud in “Civilization and Its Discontents” puts it “Why, now that we have become gods aren’t we happy?” Now that we are so enlightened why does life stink? Why do we suffer? Was Buddha right? Are we just destined to keep suffering? Is there a purpose? Is there an end? Well practically through the secular lens we must simply live through it and endure…that is a very depressing answer. However; if you are a Christian there is a hope and His name is Jesus. Jesus is the answer to the problem of suffering, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Theoretically if you live in a corrupt system, then you can always revolt and build a utopia on earth free of all corruption and be done away with the issue of why you are suffering, but then again you are still going to suffer death so issue is still unresolved.
But if you are a Christian and believe that God is the author of a story and is writing both the beginning and the end and all that lies within then the question is “Why does He write such a dreadful story?” This seems to be part of where Job the “archetypical sufferer” who in the midst of his suffering asks God “Why me?” in which God instead of answering his questions responds with His own questions. To ultimately sum up God’s response “Who do you think you are, you can’t possibly understand, I’m the author, you’re the character but that is ok I still love you.” David seems to a have a similar response as Job in the midst of his suffering when he asks “Why me?” except David always seems to add something Job doesn’t seem to remember “Why me? Either way I still trust You and know that You are good.” Coincidentally both seem to encounter God in the midst of their suffering. Concerning suffering Dr. Kreeft states “Perhaps one of the things God wants us to do is to get angry with Him, because that makes us similar to Socrates. It makes us ask questions.” I myself have found this to be true in my own life because of the anger I experience from my suffering I have found myself turning to God to ask Him the hard questions. Much like Job and David in the Psalms I turned to the One who could see the end from the beginning.
Dr. Kreet makes the point that, if in fact we are characters in a story written by God then that means we cannot truly understand all that is going on, even suffering because if we did that means God would no longer be God and instead simply He would be us. But since the character cannot see all that the author is writing, then we cannot fully comprehend all that is going on all we can do is simply trust in the leadership of the transcendent author. If this is true then this is one answer to the problem of suffering, simply to Trust or Faith in God’s leadership.
Another answer to the problem is Hope, which is simply Faith in the future. So it is possible that we will not fully understand suffering in this age but in the age to come when God has done away with suffering. Or in other words it is like the character trying to figure out where the author is taking him in his story but ultimately can’t fully understand until it is all over and book two starts and he can look back. So consequently all he can do is trust in the leadership of the author by putting his hope that the author will right the wrongs.
Lastly the deepest answer to the issue of suffering is love or rather solidarity with sufferers and if you truly do love someone then you want to be with them wherever they are, you want to be close to them, you want intimacy. It is one thing if to show love by bailing someone out of their suffering but it is another to experience their suffering with them. It is the shortest verse of the Bible; “Jesus wept.” In which when Jesus wept over the loss of his friend with Mary the people said “See how He loved him.” Jesus experienced both the pain of Lazarus’ death and the pain that Mary was experiencing. Sure Jesus could have stopped Lazarus from dying, but He didn’t because He is the author and brought good out of it. But in Lazarus and Mary’s suffering Jesus was their relating with them.
Thus if you are a Christian the greatest answer to the problem of suffering is as stated earlier is Jesus. Who took off His garments of light and clothed Himself in dust to walk among the broken to identify with their suffering, thus showing the greatness of His love. In being with us in our suffering we experience a greater level of intimacy is birthed, this is for everyone because everyone suffers.
Dr. Kreeft paints the picture: If your car breaks down in a horrible snow storm and all you can do is contact your brother. When he shows up he doesn’t know how to fix your car, but all he knows to do is sit with you in the midst of your trial until the morning when you can get a tow truck to come to your rescue. So looking back is guy more thankful for the brother or the tow truck guy? Is he more thankful for the one was with him in his suffering or rescued him? Well it would be the one who was with him. I can attest to this in my experience more times than naught, in my times of suffering all I really wanted was someone to just come sit with me as I experienced the inevitable pain. Now praise be to God that Jesus is both the brother in the story who sits with us in our suffering and the transcendent author who at the end of the story will right every wrong on our behalf. Jesus was with the child being abused, He was the One who rescued the child from being abused and the One who healed and matured the abused child into a grown man capable of ministering to the broken. Jesus is the answer to suffering. Thus knowing I can meet Jesus in my suffering well to quote Nietzsche: “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Those that have a ‘why’ or a meaning to be found in suffering can endure it because Jesus is there.
 “Four Causes”. Falcon, Andrea. Aristotle on Causality. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2008
When we read about Pentecost and what ensues after it we see the disciples filled with boldness in their preaching and operating in “extraordinary miracles,” but was this all because of the “out pouring” or something else? What changed after they were filled? What didn’t change? For the record I must state that I have yet to fully achieve the complete answer, but merely have found an argument/perspective based off my observations to hopefully cause one to consider to dig into the scriptures to find truth.
Before we start with the book of acts let’s look at what we see these followers doing in the Gospels so to get a better grasp on what is new post out pouring. In the Gospels we see the disciples already doing signs and wonders and operating in authoritative preaching. When Jesus send out His disciples it says He gave them authority of unclean spirits. And He *summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7 But what we see them doing is even more than simply casting demons out, but we see them healing the sick and preached of the coming kingdom. We can safely assume that the preaching had some level of impact of people, because they are preaching, healing and casting demons out; the latter is the most unusual of the three. They went out and preached that men should repent. 13And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. Mark 6:12-13
So in the Gospels we see the twelve operating healing, casting out of demons and preaching, however; the twelve are not the only ones Jesus appoints to do ministry with Him. Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. Here we see the seventy being formed to prepare the way for Him, but what does that look like? “and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Luke 10:9 Here we see the seventy are commanded to heal and preach, but did they stop there? No, let us continue on. The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.20Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20 So we see the seventy come back saying “Wow You said heal and preach but we thought why not try to cast some demons out and it worked!” Jesus responds, “Ya I saw Satan himself get lose ground because of what you did, good job but it gets better. Because you are citizens of heaven!” So in summary we have eighty-two people preaching, healing, and casting out demons, but do they perform signs and wonders?
So the question on the table is do any of the eighty-two, seventy and the twelve, do any of them perform signs and wonders? In Luke chapter nine before the seventy are even formed we see two interesting things. First some random person is casting demons out in Jesus’ name. Why is this unique? Because he is not of the twelve and the seventy has not been formed yet, meaning even if he were to be one of the ones invited into the seventy he has not been commanded by Jesus to go forth in power. John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” Luke 9:49 The second is even wilder because it is stepping into a new category of supernatural power. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Luke 9:54 That’s right two of the disciples ask Jesus if He would have them call fire down on an entire city and consume all of its inhabitants. That is more than a sign that is a wonder; with that in mind let us not forget all of the supernatural signs, wonders, healing preaching and removal of demons from Moses, the judges, the prophets, Joshua and even David. On a side note consider the powerful transformation of John going from the one asking to destroy a city and all of its inhabitants and fighting to be the greatest to become the Apostle of Love.
There is one last miracle to consider and it is this; Peter walked on water. “in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 26When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 28Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ 29And He said, ‘Come!’And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:25-31 So Peter is also doing a sign and a wonder but what happens? His faith wavers and he is no longer able to perform this sign and wonder.
In John 14:12 Jesus tells the eleven disciples that those who believe in Jesus can do the same works Jesus does and even greater. Then from there in John 14:26 and 16:7-14 Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will help the disciples remember Jesus’ words, teach them more about God and just help them out. Also He will convict people of sin, righteousness and judgment.
So we see that Pre-Pentecostal Out Pouring that followers of Christ are performing, signs, wonders, healings, casting out of demons and are preaching, so what is new? The Holy Spirit? Yes…and no…And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. John 20:22 That’s right ten of Jesus’ followers have apparently already received the Holy Spirit. Now if that isn’t confusing then I don’t know what is. So let us try to figure this out. Did the Holy Spirit they receive here was it a smaller Holy Spirit and later they would get a bigger one? May it never be! In Acts 1:5 Jesus tells the disciples that soon they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, but of these eleven we know Thomas was the only one not there when the ten were filled. So is it just for Thomas? Also in Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be my witnesses…” So what does this mean? They already are operating in some serious power. Let us continue.
In Acts 2:4 it says “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving utterance.” So here we see everyone in the room is now filled with the Spirit and now they are doing a brand new sign and wonder. But what of the ten previously filled? Ready for the answer? I don’t know. The best conclusion we can see is that though they were filled they may now have become awakened to the movement of the Spirit until Pentecost.
After Pentecost they are still doing signs, wonders, healings, demon removals and preaching, but two things have changed. First they are doing these things in a more abundance. Second thing is their faith is not wavering like it once did. In the Gospels when the Jews came for Jesus the twelve are scattered, the seventy are unheard from, Peter denies three times and only John returns. However, after Pentecost and when the disciples are all filled with the Holy Spirit their faith is no longer really wavering like it once did, in fact their faith seems to have been both strengthened and dramatically increased. Why? Because the amount of miracles the disciples are doing has increased and the fact that they are performing more powerful and unique miracles. Their handkerchiefs and shadows are now healing people and in Acts 19 it says Paul performed “extraordinary miracles” that led to those in sorcery converting. Demonic miracles workers are being outclassed. Jesus explained it best Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20And He *said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Matthew 17:19-21 The disciples are doing miracles with a small amount of faith but after they become filled with the Holy Spirit their faith is increased substantially. Jesus tells them if their faith was stronger they could do even more. So after they are filled their faith greatly increases and so do their miracles.
So what is our conclusion? It would appear that the filling of the Holy Spirit does four primary things though is not limited to these:
- The filling of the Holy Spirit gives believers great fellowship with God. No longer did the disciples have to wait to be in the same room with Jesus to talk to God but now they can do it anywhere at any time, even to the degree that their spirits are now speaking with God (tongues).
- The filling of the Holy Spirit gives greater revelation and gives conviction. Now believers understand the deep mysteries of God in a new way, having more convictions and are able to walk out holiness. How are they getting this? Because of point #1, fellowship with God.
- The filling of the Holy Spirit gives greater boldness and confidence. Now no longer do they waver like they once did Pre-Pentecost, no longer does their confidence rattle under pressure. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is testifying with theirs of their identity and that He is with them.
- The filling of the Holy Spirit has increased their faith. Now their faith is increased; meaning where once the idea of casting demons out was bizarre now they are breaking off addiction. Where once healing the sick was mind boggling now their shadows and handkerchiefs are doing it for them. Why? Because of greater all of the above has strengthened their faith.
So everything the disciples experienced with Jesus has now been greatly increased through the ability communing (prayer and tongues) with the Holy Spirit who gives identity, revelation, conviction and all of these through the filling of the Holy Spirit seem to increase our faith to believe for more. Pre-filling Peter believed to heal the sick, after his shadow is doing it for him. So the reason their works are increased substantially is because their faith is stronger than it once was. Now if God said “Come” Peter could probably walk on water during the worst of storms and not waver in His faith. Now John’s faith could most likely finally move that mountain. Which at least once has apparently been done in church history, but that is another story for another time…
Luke 2:47 says that at age twelve Jesus amazed people with His words; we see in Matthew 13:56 that the people who saw Him grow up were amazed at His words and wondered where He got them.
“And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” Luke 2:47
“And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” Matthew 13:56
To say that He did not speak openly because it was not His time would not explain the account found in Luke 2. One must wonder what happened in His life during those eighteen years of silence. What was life like for Him as He grew up? Was He shunned or ignored? Did He stop sharing in between? What happened in those eighteen years of silence? Did the people not pay attention to Him because He was a youth? Did they write Him off because He was a carpenter’s son, or because a carpenter Himself?
Though the scriptures are silent we are left with only fragments that shed some light on what life might have been like before His revealing at the river Jordan. Still we are left to speculate and wonder at what it was like for the darling of heaven as He lived in silence in Nazareth.
The name Nazareth is thought to derive from either the word na·tsar (נָצַר), meaning “to watch,” or ne·tser (נֵ֫צֶר), meaning “branch”, “flower”, or “offshoot”. If the latter then that would possibly shed light on Matthew 2:23’s prophecy.
“And came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:23
If it is ne·tser then that would mean Jesus could say “I come from the Branch” or “I am of the Branch”. If this train of thought be true then it is possible that the prophecy that Matthew was alluding to was that of the Messianic Branch.
“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and adornment of the survivors of Israel.” Isaiah 4:2
“Then a shoot will spring up from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He will reign as King and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.’” Jeremiah 23:5
“‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” Jeremiah 33:15
“And the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, 7‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here. 8‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you— indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch .” Zechariah 3:6-8
“Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord.’” Zechariah 6:12
In Isaiah 9, Isaiah prophecies over two the tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, that their reproach from the Lord would soon come to an end and great glorious blessing would come to them. A great light will come to the people by way of the sea, most likely the Sea of Galilee, this light being Jesus. This is the region where Jesus grew up and here lies Nazareth. Once again this too could be the prophecy that Matthew spoke of.
“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Isaiah 9:1-2
Nazareth lies about 63 miles north of Jerusalem and during the time of Christ is thought to have been a more fertile farming land than a desert. Mount Megiddo lies about 11 miles west of Nazareth. Jesus would have grown up within a few miles of where the Battle of Armageddon was to take place at the end of the age. What was that like for Him?
“for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. 15(“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) 16 And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.” Revelation 16:14-16
Following boy Jesus’ in the temple (Luke 2:41-51) Joseph seems to drop out of the picture. The main reason being that throughout Jesus’ ministry he is not seen or heard from and ultimately at the cross he is not there. Along with his absence Jesus on the cross hands over His responsibilities as the eldest son to His disciple John, this included watching over His mother Mary. If Joseph was alive or around still then this act would not be needed. The main reason why the idea of Joseph leaving the family is not logical is primarily with how he is remembered by the disciple Matthew.
“And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man…” Matthew 1:19
Along with His cousin John, Jesus also grew up with four different brothers and multiple sisters (the number is not mentioned). Jesus being the eldest would have had the responsibility of taking care of the family if Joseph were to die.
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” Matthew 13:55-56
From what we see at the cross His mother Mary was still actively involved with His life even to the point of the cross, and His brothers would go on to be leaders in the New Testament church.
-Go to school or get a job?
Jesus is known as the son of the carpenter which points to that He would have worked under Joseph.
“And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Luke 4:22
Though He is not openly called a carpenter it is highly suggested that He worked as one instead of going to school. This would explain why the people were confused on where His wisdom and understanding came from. This leaves us with the notion that He grew up very simple. He was known in His hometown which means there were probably not a lot of carpenters, thus the son of one would be easily remembered, especially if He had worked as one as well.
Given their relationship as cousins it is likely that both John and Jesus knew of each other. Though the question of how acquainted they were with each other still remains in question.
“Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ Matthew 3:14
What we do know is that when John saw Jesus coming up to him he seemed aware of who Jesus was to some degree. But at the same time he did not recognize who He fully was.
“This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’ 32 John testified saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’” John 1:30-33
However John makes it clear that John the Baptist did not recognize who Jesus really was until he saw the sign of the Holy Spirit descending upon and remaining upon Him. Given the two accounts it would seem as though John knew that Jesus was special to some degree, though at the same time not fully until the sign was given. This could be that as a youth his parents would tell him of the uniqueness of his birth as well as the uniqueness of his cousin’s. It could also be that they at one point would interact with each other while growing up and/or before they started their ministries. Another reason is that while in the wilderness John had received some form of revelation about His cousin. Or even at the point of seeing Jesus walking up to him the partial revelation of the uniqueness of Jesus came to him, but was not fully revealed until the sign of the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Jesus.
“Regarding the tension between Matthew’s account and John’s account (the former implying former knowledge, the latter implying none) can be resolved by postulating that John was aware of the promises given at Jesus’ birth and His greatness, but had not yet received the sign given him by the Father to confirm that Jesus was in fact the one he had called to prepare the way for.”
As previously discussed; during the silence John had received the word of the Lord and was now proclaiming repentance. More than just any message of repentance but one declaring that the coming of the Lord and of His Kingdom drew nigh. He was also drawing in many to be baptized; which was the ritual washing for those who desired to convert to Judaism.
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus would begin His ministry about thirty years of age. Given their approximate six months difference in age, this would leave John to be about thirty years old as well.
“When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age…” Luke 3:23
This would then mean John to be just a few months into his ministry.
Down at the Jordan
While baptizing in the Jordan River John saw Jesus approaching him, having come from Nazareth in Galilee where He had spent the last thirty years. After roughly eighteen years of silence concerning the life of Christ everything begins to shift. Suddenly out of Nazareth a man came to the Jordan River to be baptized. It was the Christ
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” Mark 1:9
-The Two Accounts
In the Gospel of Matthew John tries to stop Jesus from approaching him to be baptized by acknowledging that Jesus was of a higher rank than he.
13“Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ 15But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he *permitted Him. Matthew 3:13-15
In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist states that the Lord had given him a sign to reveal to him who the One who was to come after him was. John goes on to state that when Jesus approached him that he did not recognize Him until he saw the sign of the spirit descending and remaining upon Him.
30“This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. 31I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’ 32John testified saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’” John 1:30-33
Here we see a contradiction where Matthew says that John recognized Him and John says that he did not recognize Him. It is in my opinion that both are right. I would say that Matthew is right because, John in some way would have known his cousin, of His miraculous conception and birth. I highly doubt those stories would not have been told to him. Thus he would have grown up knowing there was something special about his cousin Jesus and that He was destined for greatness. John would be right in if John the Baptist was given a sign to reveal the One who came after then He would not know fully who it was until he saw the sign. Though it would be safe to assume that he was constantly searching and asking the Lord of the One who was to come, to where when Jesus would walk forward his antenna would be up because of previous experiences with Him.
As previously discussed concerning John’s baptism, it was a call to repentance and to become real Jews that are circumcised of heart and not just flesh. This was offensive to a Jewish man or woman, as they were being told they were not true Jews.
With that being said why would Jesus who has never sinned take part in the baptism of sinners? I have heard some say that Jesus was being spiritually washed as a priest, but that would be inaccurate as that was not what John’s was. His baptism was very specific in nature, hence why John at first wanted to resist. The reality is though Jesus never sinned, He did receive the baptism. It does not say He repented, because obviously there was nothing to repent too, it would seem that it was merely a sign of solidarity. In other words He would simply be saying, “See I am both circumcised of heart and of the flesh” or rather that He both agreed and partnered with John’s message of repentance and circumcision of heart.
13“Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ 15But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he *permitted Him. Matthew 3:13-15
-Behold the Son
Coming up from the water we see the famous Trinitarian scene. Here we see the Holy Spirit show up in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father declaring His affection upon His beloved Son.
16After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’ Matthew 3:16-17
Here at the baptism we see the Father respond to both the humanity and the deity of Christ. Before entering into the temptation of the wilderness where Satan will attack His Sonship, the Father affirms Christ as His Beloved Son.
In addition the Father responds to the humility of His only begotten Son by declaring how proud of Him He is. Upon seeing the humility of the Beloved Son as He submitted to the John’s baptism was a thing of beauty. What was heaven like seeing the Word made flesh make His declaration of submission to purity and circumcision of heart through John baptism? He did not have to but still He did. He knew no sin yet He submitted to the call of circumcision of heart. He knew John was the one who had been leading the call to repentance and circumcision of heart and that He would need to submit to the one who was entrusted to lead in the moment. Along with that, but in order to begin His ministry He chose to come under John’s method of baptism.
Oh the beauty of the humility of the Beloved Son who chose to submit Himself to the current spiritual leader John and to His baptism. No wonder heaven could not be silent, no wonder the Father could not keep quiet, and no wonder why the Holy Spirit could not restrain Himself.
Matthew states that the Father says “This is My Beloved Son…” where as Mark and Luke say “You are My Beloved Son…” Though Matthew disagrees with the language used by his contemporaries, it does not interfere with the story. Whether it is the declaration to the Son or to the audience, the point still remains that the Father is proud of His Beloved Son.
21“Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” Luke 3:21-22
9“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.10Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11
In order to fully grasp the profundity of this moment one must take the time to truly soak it all in. Here in this one scene we see the greatness of Christ’s humility, the Father’s overwhelmed affection towards His Son and the Holy Spirit’s desire to draw near to the lowly. If the humility of Christ’s baptism is not enough then surely the thirty years of hiddenness and His subjection to His earthly family is truly a thing to cause one to marvel. Just one scene captured in the gospels or not should cause one to be left reeling in awe.
Into the Wilderness
Following this remarkable moment, Jesus led by the Spirit enters into the wilderness to fast and pray for forty days and nights enters into temptation. Having been affirmed in His Sonship by His Father, Jesus enters into the hardest temptation ever. While at His weakest, Lucifer himself shows up to tempt Christ at the end of His forty day fast.
“Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” Mark 1:12-13
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.” Matthew 4:1-2
For the sake of not going into a deep Christological discussion, though Jesus in His divinity could not be tempted, in His humanity could be. How that works is a mystery. All we can say is that Jesus did endure a real temptation, it was not easy but nor was it hard.
“This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:32
“By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,” Ephesians 3:4
Have some bread-
Satan’s first temptation was to focus in on Christ’ physical hunger as an attack on His physically weakened state, being found in his human form.
3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:3-4
Wanna go for a jump-
For Satan’s second temptation he attacks Christ’s identity as the Beloved Son. In the first two temptations Satan says “If You are the Son of God…” this being an obvious attack on Christ’s identity as a Son, but the second is directly focused on His identity. Satan is in essence saying “Prove that You are the Beloved Son.”Jesus in His weekend state would most likely be leaning into the audible voice from His father just forty days earlier. Notice that here Satan is quoting a scripture at Christ and as is Christ’s method He responds by leaning into the truth of His Word.
5“Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:5-7
I’ll make You famous-
For Satan’s final attempts, he seeks to tempt Christ with all the wealth of nations, if He would only worship him. This is an attack on Christ’s patience because he knows Christ will inherit it all and more, if He remains patient. For the patient one will receive a great inheritance when they remain in subjected to the will of their Father. Satan is in a way seeking to get Christ to abandon service to His Father and get a cheaper, lesser and impure inheritance than that which He was meant to have; this is similar to that of the prodigal son. One could say that Jesus is the Son who remained unlike the prodigal and did not become jealous of the younger (us) like the older did.
“And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” Luke 4:5-8
8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” 11Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.” Matthew 4:8-11
With all three temptations Christ leans into the truth of the Word, as that which sustained Him.
‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4
In the Temptations we see Christ resisting His own fleshly desires for food, wealth and glory or rather gluttony, greed and pride. It is safe to say that He endured the temptations of all seven of the deadly sins.
- Sloth- He did not give in to lethargic spirit but pressed in, in prayer.
- Lust- He did not lust or covet the kingdoms offered him.
- Greed- He did not demand anything that was not His but looked to that which He was to inherit.
- Pride- He did not give into the temptation of proving or rather boasting in His identity.
- Wrath- He did not get into the fleshly anger.
- Gluttony- He resisted the hunger of the flesh.
- Envy- He did not envy Satan’s control over the kingdoms of the World, because He knew it would become His.
Following the temptations the angels come to minister to Him. To say that the temptations and the fasting of Christ was nothing more than a walk in the park is a statement of ignorance. Christ was exhausted and weak. He was tired and hungry. He was in need of someone coming to minister to Him.
What a site that must have been for the angels to look down and see the Darling of Heaven drained. To see Him exhausted and in need of help. O’ the humility of God to once again be in need of creation to help Him. When beholding the beauty of this scene one cannot simply read through it without taking the time to soak in the magnitude of what has transpired. God fought on behalf of creation.
Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:11
When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. Luke 4:13
A key thing to notice is in Luke it says “…until the opportune time.” This clearly points to a future temptation/attack from Satan. It would be safe to say that it was most likely pointing to the temptation to give in, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the trial or the Cross.
-Correlation between the Temptations and The Garden of Gethsemane
-In the Temptations Christ
- Christ is tempted to give in to His own fleshly desires/will.
- He is left alone.
- He must trust in God’s will that He would inherit all things without needing to compromise. He resists the fleshes will of shortcutting.
- Afterwards angels come to minister to Him.
- A transition happens as His ministry begins.
-Garden of Gethsemane
- Christ is tempted to give in to His own fleshly desires/will.
- Everyone falls asleep and He is left alone.
- He must trust in God’s will and not His fleshes will.
- Afterwards angels come to minister to Him.
- A transition happens as His ministry is coming to an end.
To Be Continued- The Beginning of Christ’s Ministry
 Stephen Venable, Life of Christ in the Gospels: Session 05- Emergence, p24
1“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2
Once again Luke has come through for us to help set the backdrop for our story. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar the word of the Lord comes to the son of Zacharias. Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus became the sole emperor of Rome in the year 14 AD, however, two years prior in 12 AD he became the co-regent with his adopted father Caesar Augustus who was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. If Luke is counting the two years of Tiberius’ co-regency then that would place us at 26 AD. Luke states that Tiberius is “in his fifteenth year” thus he has not finished fifteen years but on the way. Now if we take the date of 26 AD then that would place both John and Jesus at age 30 if the birth dates that have been previously been established are accurate.
Pontius Pilate ruled as the governor of Judea from 26 AD to 36/37 AD. Herod reigned as the tetrarch of Galilee from 4 BC to 39AD while his brother Philip the reigned as the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis from 4 BC to 34 AD. Concerning Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene there is much speculation as to his true identity. History tells of a man named Lysanias who ruled the region was put to death by Mark Antony 36 BC. If this is the case then it is quite possible the one Luke is mentioning was one of his descendant.
Annas was the acting high priest from 6 AD to 15 AD and Caiaphas who was the son-in-law of Annas acted as the high priest from 18 AD to 36 AD. Though Annas was no longer the acting high priest during the time of the ministries of John and Jesus, he had however once held the office. Therefore, Annas would have still carried the rank of high priest much like Bill Clinton still has the rank of “president” though he is not in office. This being said that is why in various times in the Gospels we see both Annas and Caiaphas mentioned as high priests, one is acting the other has already served. Also since Annas was Caiaphas’ father-in-law and former high priest he would have sought him for advice on difficult matters.
2“…the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. 3And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;” Luke 3:2-3
1“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 3:1-2
After about thirty years of silence, following the birth of the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth there appeared a man out of nowhere. This man came preaching a baptism of repentance and declaring that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This message came out of nowhere. This message was calling the children of Israel to repentance from her sins. The act of full body immersion was required for those seeking to convert to Judaism, thus this message was ultimately calling Jewish men and women to repent and become true Jews (i.e. followers of YHWH as their forefathers). This message would have been incredibly offensive as it was calling people as fake and the same as the pagan gentiles.
4“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:4-5
This man’s name was John and he came wearing a garment made of camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist. His diet was that of locusts and wild honey. This man for a period of time dwelled in the wilderness, though we are unsure of how long one thing we do know that it was there that the Word of the Lord came to him.
4“Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” Matthew 3:4-6
Why is John so important?
Though the primary focus in the Gospels is the life of Jesus the second most mentioned is clearly that of John. The four writers of the Gospels each focus briefly on different aspects of his life; from Luke’s account of John’s birth to Matthew’s account of his beheading each paint a picture of John’s life. If that is not enough Jesus testifies of only one man, that being his beloved cousin John. Surely this must be enough for us to consider and examine this man’s life. Why did the God-man call this one the greatest man born of a woman? What was it about him, his life and his ministry that distinguished with such a title? John the Baptist, the greatest man to ever walk under the Old Covenant. This should cause us to scrutinize John’s life and ask the question “Lord what must I do to be as great, and even greater in Your sight?”
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11
What happened for those thirty years of John’s life?
Following the events of John’s birth and his father’s prophetic utterance the scriptures only give us one verse on John’s life, until the time of his revealing thirty years later in the wilderness. However, we do know from Zacharias’ angelic encounter that John was called to live out the Nazarite vow.
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:15
“And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” Luke 1:80
For John his life would be one of separation from the things of the world and from the noise of city. It would be one of loneliness forcing him to lean into God for fellowship. For many years John’s life would be thrust into barrenness and silence as he would be left to seek the Lord.
It is widely considered that the reason why John grew up in the deserts or wilderness is that with his parents being advanced in age would most likely have passed away earlier on in his life. This would result with someone else raising John, some would even go on to speculate that he was raised within an Essene community, specifically that of Qumran. However, the Essene’s are not mentioned in the scripture, but the historian Josephus wrote of them as one of the primary Jewish sects along with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The assumption of John being associated with the Essene’s is merely superficial at best. With no evidence to prove this it is merely based on shallow similarities and only endures because of a lack of understanding on the Essene lifestyle and observance. Below is quote from Alfred Edersheim, who being a trustworthy guide on the subject due to his extensive knowledge on the topic.
“But of one thing we may feel certain: neither John the Baptist, and his Baptism, nor the teaching of Christianity, had any connection with Essenism. It were utterly unhistorical to infer such from a few points of contact – and these only of similarity, not identity – when the differences between them are so fundamental. That an Essene would have preached repentance and the Kingdom of God to multitudes, baptized the uninitiated, and given supreme testimony to One like Jesus, are assertions only less extravagant than this, that One Who mingled with society as Jesus did, and Whose teaching, alike in that respect, and in all its tendencies, was so utterly Non-, and even Anti-Essenic, had derived any part of His doctrine from Essenism. Besides, when we remember the views of the Essenes on purification, and on Sabbath observance, and their denial of the Resurrection, we feel that, whatever points of resemblance critical ingenuity may emphasize, the teaching of Christianity was in a direction opposite from that of Essenism.”
Another thought concerning his upbringing would depend on his age when his parents would have passed away, for if he were still young he would have needed for someone to watch over him meaning they might have taken him to the desert. Though the other side of the coin being if they died when he was of age to live on his own it would be much harder on him to then leave his parents to go to the desert having lived a life with some measure of money given his levitical birthright. With both of John’s parents being levites descended from Aaron it would be clear to others that this one was called to the priesthood. Thus his desire to up and move to the wilderness would be shocking to say the least to those around him.
No matter the case it is clear that from the joyful annunciation of his birth to his barren and age parents; John’s life would be plunged into many years of seeking the Lord in the wilderness until the time of his revealing.
John the Prophet
The Resurgence of Prophetic Language
Many consider John to be the last of the line of O.T. prophets and that which escorts us from the O.T. to the N.T. From Luke’s introduction of how John received the word of the Lord it is much a kin to that of both the O.T. major prophets and minor prophets
1“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2
“In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Isaiah 6:1
“In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zachariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying,” Zechariah 1:1
In each of these we see that the prophet who is receiving the word of the Lord or vision is described in similar fashion. Luke being a learned historian most likely seems to trying to make a point using the same language as seen in the O.T. prophets when describing when and how John received the word of the Lord. No other time in the book of Luke or Acts does Luke use this kind of language which then backs up the idea of him likening John to the O.T. prophets.
The Appearance of a Prophet
As stated briefly earlier John came dressed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt and ate locusts and honey. Though this may seem to be quite odd for a prophet it was not the first time.
“John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.” Mark 1:6
“They answered him, ‘He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’” II Kings 1:8
“Also it will come about in that day that the prophets will each be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies, and they will not put on a hairy robe in order to deceive;” Zechariah 13:4
Not only did john dress in this manner but it seems that Elijah did as well as Zechariah points out that it was custom for prophets to dress in such a manner.
Those that testified of the prophet of the Most High
Zacharias at the birth of his son prophesies of his son’s destiny as a prophet of the Most High.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;” Luke 1:76
When John was still imprisoned he sent some of his disciples to question Jesus if He was the One. As Jesus responds He makes the point of testifying of John as a prophet, and even more.
“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.” Matthew 11:9
Finally just two days following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Christ’ final week leading up to the cross, some of the priests and religious leaders came up to Jesus seeking to trap Him. The day prior He had just cleared out the temple for the second time of His ministry, the day before that was His triumphal entry and now they are seeking to trap this One who is causing an uproar. However, Jesus in all wisdom turns the tables on them with the question about John the Baptist and his message.
“But shall we say, ‘From men’?’—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet.” Mark 11:32
John’s Prophetic Calling
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1
Through the mouth of His servant Malachi the Lord reveals to us that He would send a messenger before He came. This messenger would prepare the way for the Lord. This promise is much a kin to the one Isaiah had prophesied concerning “A voice is calling.”
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” Isaiah 40:3
Right before the four hundred years of silence the prophet Malachi declares not only of the coming of the King but also of his herald, the one who would go before Him. Jesus in Matthew 11 ascribes these prophetic words to John as the one who was to come before Him.
“As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about john, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in king’s palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’’” Matthew 11:7-10
The Priest before the Prophet
Before John became the prophet filled with the word of the Lord, he was called as a priest. John was the progeny of two Levite parents who both were descended from Aaron, thus making John born into the priesthood. From the point of his miraculous birth John was destined for that of the priesthood. By birthright John was destined to be one who would stand, serve, minister and burn before the Lord.
“My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.” II Chronicles 29:11
For John the context of his ministering to the heart of the Lord would look far more different from what was common for priests of his day. Instead of ministering to the heart of the Lord in the temple among men; John would choose the place of hiddenness in the wilderness. It is in this place that the priest would become more than a priest but a prophet as well, much like Moses (a Levite who became a prophet) and Samuel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel (who each served as a priests but became prophets).
“Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod.” I Samuel 2:18
“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,” Jeremiah 1:1
“the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar…” Ezekiel 1:3
At the end of John’s life in one of his last recorded words by the Gospel writers, John reveals that it is His joy to stand and hear the voice of God. It would seem that he is not limiting it to just the few times his paths crossed with Jesus, but also all those times in the wilderness as he sought the voice of God and the joy he experienced.
“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.” John 3:29
In the secret place of the wilderness a priest was found ministering to the heart of the Lord and would eventually emerge a prophet filled with the Word of the Lord.
“But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? Jeremiah 23:18
“The one who is a voice is first one who hears.”
The End of Silence and the Dawn of the Word of the Lord
“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but ratherfor hearing the words of the Lord.’” Amos 8:11
Following the prophet Malachi, the last of the prophets, the land of Israel went into a season barrenness. The words of Amos had born their fruit as Israel entered into four hundred years of silence; a time of famine for the word of the Lord was nowhere to be heard. This land that had grown accustomed to being saturated with the words of God had become starved. For hundreds of years the nation of Israel would see empires rise and fall all around her. They would fall under subjection from one empire to another all the while longing for God to speak to her with words of comfort. The religious leaders would fall into further corruption and puppet kings would be put over her. Somewhere deep down inside the people knew that there was something missing, the word of the Lord. That word that was like bread from heaven.
Suddenly after the four hundred years of famine, a man came preaching in the wilderness. His words were laced with authority unlike anything they have ever experienced. These words cut them straight to the heart, bringing conviction and a renewed hope. The hearts of the people like a dry mouth longed to drink from this well in the wilderness that overflowed with words of hope. No wonder why people left their homes and traveled from all over Judea to hear this man in wilderness. Just as a man starved near to death would travel and do anything for some sort of nourishment, so the people traveled to hear the words of John. These words that gave them hope that a King was coming. If the thirst and hunger were not enough to compel the masses to come to John, the sheer astonishment of the reality that a man has been found that has an anointing on his words. The curiosity of the people to hear that a man in the wilderness seems to resemble those they grew up hearing about like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Malachi.
After many years in the wilderness we know that Word of the Lord came to him. From that point on he began to preach the message of repentance. This message was so impactful to the people who the Jews were “converting to Judaism” through the baptism of repentance. Though another sign of just how impactful this message was is the fact that he did not go to the people but rather the people came out to him. Though John remained in the wilderness by the Jordan River, people from Jerusalem, people from all over Judea and those living near the district of the Jordan River were coming out to be baptized. The Jordan River lies approximately 20 miles to the east of Jerusalem; though this seems like a short distance it is quite the opposite if you are on foot. Multitudes of people were making this trip to go hear a man tell them of coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and how they needed to repent, be baptized and ultimately become true Jews.
The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness
2“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.’” Mark 1:2-3
4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT. 5‘EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE BROUGHT LOW; THE CROOKED WILL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH; 6AND ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.’” Luke 3:4-6
Concerning John the three synoptic Gospels, they each use the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 to describe John. The minor difference is that Mark adds an introductory phrase which is not actually apart of Isaiah 40 and Luke adds Isaiah 40:4-5 (though the language is a little different). However in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist actually quotes Isaiah 40:3 when asked who he was. John identifies himself as “the voice crying out” that Isaiah had prophesied about.
This title as “the voice crying out” really sets the stage for what his ministry was to look like, one of making way for the coming of the Lord. John, the voice of one crying out stands in the wilderness declaring to the people who there is one coming who is name is the Lord. Even the Hebrew word for Lord being used here is YHWH. John was declaring to the people who God was coming and that they should get ready. Though this message would seem to be treated as merely messianic, but in reality it is so much more. John was not saying that he was just preparing the way for the messiah but for God. He was stating that YHWH was coming. The one who dwelt in the burning bush was on His way. This is why they would be called to repent.
The Message of the Voice Crying Out
3And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;” Luke 3:3
1“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 3:1-2
The message of John was a call to repentance as he declared the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was unto preparing the way of the One who was to come. The language of the “Kingdom of Heaven” would only appear to be referenced in the book of Daniel, specifically in chapter two. It is in Daniel chapter two that Nebuchadnezzar has his dream of the statue and the rock that destroys it. Daniel prophecies of a kingdom established by the God of heaven and this kingdom will destroy all of the other kingdoms and it will never be destroyed. This prophecy is connected to the Messianic prophecies for it is the Messiah who was to bring forth this Kingdom made by the God of Heaven.
44“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44
Though John is not recorded of quoting from the book of Daniel, it would be safe to say that he is probably preaching with the prophecy of Daniel chapter two in mind. Thus, when John preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand he was declaring that the Messiah was on the way. This message would have brought courage and hope to those hearing as they longed to be free from the Romans. This message would have brought conviction to their hearts as no one would want to miss out on the coming Messiah. Their mindset of the Messiah was one who would be like a second David, which would make him a warrior king who would usher the people into a golden age, and no one would want to be found sinful or even miss this. The people were looking for the lion but John came to proclaim of the lamb (John 1:29).
“…Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John 1:29
As stated earlier the message of repentance through baptism called the people to be converted into true Judaism. Thus once more become converted into Judaism before the Messiah comes, sets up the Kingdom of Heaven and you get swept away.
In summary John came to prepare the people for YHWH’s coming by calling them to a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John was warning the people, that the ‘Stone’ that Daniel had prophesied was coming to destroy the nations. This why he declared to them “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The people knew that the “Stone’ or Kingdom of Heaven would be ruled by the Messiah. However, what they seemed to not get was that the Messiah and YHWH would be united in one man, the one who was to come after him, Jesus.
7“And he was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1:7-8
A Day in the Life of John
John begins to address the people
7So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
As John preached in the wilderness many were coming out to him to receive the baptism of repentance, even the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance.” Matthew 3:11
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Matthew 3:7
As John saw the masses coming out to him to be baptized he began to call the people and the religious leaders a brood of vipers, those bound in sin. He continues to ask them who even warned them to flee from the destruction that was coming their way? No matter the case he calls them all to walk out their repentance by bearing the fruit of repentance; for their ethnicity will not spare them from the path of hell. Even if all the children of Abraham on the earth were to fall down the path of destruction and there were none left on the earth, then the Lord would raise up children of Abraham to replace them from the stones. Destruction was at the door step of all the children of Israel if they do not begin to bear the fruit of repentance. The axe was now at the root ready to chop down every tree that does not turn into the merciful heart of God lest they become fuel for the fire of His justice.
The People Ask How to Bear the Fruit of their Repentance
“And the crowds were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’ 11And he would answer and say to them, ‘The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.’ 12And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ 13And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’ 14Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.’” Luke 3:10-14
The people begin to question John how to walk their repentance out. John’s response in short is preview of a message that would be preached by the One to come after him, the Sermon on the Mount. In summary he tells them to love others by sharing with them, by not stealing from them, nor lying about them.
John’s personal compare and contrast with the One to come after him
“Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 16John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” Luke 3:15-17
The people begin to question whether if John was the Messiah and most likely through the spirit of prophecy knew this, and told them that he was not but the One who comes after him is of a higher rank than him, or rather the One who comes after him is the Messiah. The One to arise after John was so much greater than him that he was not worthy to untie his sandals. This says much as kings and emperors will even have the lowest of slaves washing their feet. The One who was come not only was greater than John but also has existed before him.
“John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” John 1:15
John he came to call the people to repentance so to be ready for the One who came after him, this was the point of his baptism. The One who was to come after would baptize with more than just mere water but with the power of the Holy Spirit (and all that comes with this salvation, fellowship with God and power). The One was to come next was coming to separate the righteous from the wicked. He will gather the righteous wheat into His house and reward them. However, the wicked chaff will be thrown into the fire of His justice. The Gospel of Matthew calls the wheat as ‘His’ thus belonging to Him.
“…He will gather His wheat into the barn…” Matthew 7:12
John would continue to preach the Gospel many other times to the people until John rebuked Herod the tetrarch of his sins, which led to John’s beheading.
18So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. 19But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, 20Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison. Luke 3:7-20